Julian Hattem

Supreme Court called into secrecy fight

The Supreme Court is being called to weigh in on a years-long Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the high court to decide whether the Obama administration should hand over a secret memo allowing the FBI to obtain phone records without any judicial process.

"The public has a fundamental right to know how the federal government is interpreting surveillance and privacy laws," EFF senior counsel David Sobel said. "If the [Justice Department’s] Office of Legal Counsel has interpreted away federal privacy protections in secret, the public absolutely needs access to that analysis. There is no way for the public to intelligently advocate for reforms when we're intentionally kept in the dark," he added.

The disputed memo first came to light in a 2010 report from the department’s inspector general.

Amtrak wants better Wi-Fi

Amtrak is looking to upgrade the wireless Internet it offers along the 457-mile Northeast corridor. The train line has offered Wi-Fi to riders from Washington to Boston for a handful of years, but the service has been frustratingly slow and often cuts out at points through the trip on a crowded train. For some regular commuters, the poor service has become something of a recurring joke. Amtrak wants that to change.

The Wi-Fi connection along the popular route is currently 10 Mbps, but the company is looking for bids to boost that to at least 25 Mbps, which would be a significant upgrade. Web speeds could rise even further in the future, as technology permits, Amtrak said. Additionally, Amtrak would drop current restrictions that prevent riders from downloading large files and streaming music and video, which would allow people along the Northeast corridor to watch movies on Netflix and Hulu and stream songs on Spotify.

Amtrak has asked for a $260 million bump in federal money from Congress to deal with a surge of riders, especially along the popular Northeast corridor.

PBS claims FCC wants to shrink its reach

Public broadcasters are warning that some people could lose access to “Sesame Street,” “NewsHour” and other educational shows. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) denied the broadcasters’ request to ensure that every community has access to the free public TV after it redistributes the nation’s airwaves, according to the broadcasters.

“We believe the Commission’s rejection of this long-standing policy is a grievous error that risks breaking faith with the nation’s commitment to universal service for non-commercial educational television,” the heads of PBS, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Association of Public Television Stations said.

The chiefs said they had “profound disappointment” in the decision, which rejects “one of public television’s most important policy goals” in the spectrum auction process. Under the Public Broadcasting Act, stations like PBS are supposed to reach every American in the country. For decades, the FCC has reserved chunks of the spectrum for non-commercial educational TV, but the public broadcasters accused it of ending that pattern with its new auction.

NSA won't abandon phone records program without Congress

The Obama Administration has ruled out using internal administrative policy to reform controversial federal surveillance programs, a top Justice Department official said.

Officials have not tried to persuade the country’s surveillance court to change its understanding of the law, Deputy Attorney General James Cole told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and do not plan to replace a National Security Agency (NSA) program with other ways to collect data about Americans.

“We think that our choices at this point really come down to what has been approved by the courts over a number of years, new legislation or else not having the tools at all,” he said.

Attorney General Cole’s statement came in response to a question from Sen Mark Udall (D-CO), a critic of the NSA's surveillance, who claimed that the administration “has the tools it needs” through other methods to protect national security while also not violating their privacy. Opponents of the NSA’s program to collect records about people’s phone calls say that the federal government could abandon the program and use other means, such as national security letters, to collect the data.

“The current law gives the government broad authority right now -- right now-- to obtain records quickly,” Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), another critic of the government surveillance, told Attorney General Cole. “The fact that this dragnet surveillance is taking place right now is unacceptable to me.”

Snowden calls for stronger online security

Ahead of the one-year anniversary of his first leaks about the National Security Agency, former contractor Edward Snowden is calling for Internet users and companies take up the reins on their own.

"One year ago, we learned that the Internet is under surveillance, and our activities are being monitored to create permanent records of our private lives -- no matter how innocent or ordinary those lives might be,” he said. “Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same.”

Snowden is throwing his support behind an online effort that Web companies and advocacy organizations are calling Reset the Net.

Google, Mozilla, reddit and other leading websites are teaming up with advocacy organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee for the push, which is aimed at increasing users’ privacy protections online. The campaign is looking for popular websites and online services to offer more online security in the absence of and in addition to any legislation from Congress.

Tech titans tell Senate to go big on NSA overhaul

Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other top technology companies are warning the Senate not to follow the House’s lead with a compromised plan to reform the National Security Agency.

A coalition of nine major companies is planning to publish an open letter calling for the Senate to limit the NSA’s powers, the one-year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s first revelations about the spy agency. The same day, a top trade group head will warn the Senate Intelligence Committee that the spy agency’s activities could lead to “seriously damaging long-term implications” for the global economy. Together, the efforts amount to a concerted push to pressure the Senate to rein in surveillance, after the House passed a bill that many reformers thought was too weak.

“Over the last year many of our companies have taken important steps, including further strengthening the security of our services and taking action to increase transparency,” the nine-member Reform Government Surveillance coalition wrote in the letter, which will be published in The Washington Post, New York Times and Politico. “But the government needs to do more.”

The tech coalition is made up of Google, Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Yahoo, Dropbox and LinkedIn.The trade group includes major companies like Dell, Sony, Intel and eBay, in addition to several of the companies in the Reform Government Surveillance group.

Bahamas lawyers up to deal with NSA spying

The government of the Bahamas has hired American lawyers to help with US surveillance, after a report alleged that the National Security Agency was monitoring all the island nation's calls.

A week after the report based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the Bahamas directed the law firm Hogan Lovells to advise and represent it on a range of government actions “that may affect or relate to [its] activities and interests... including but not limited to surveillance and privacy matters,” according to a federal disclosure document. The inclusion of surveillance matters was a new issue for the law firm.

Though it had represented the Bahamas since at least 2001, surveillance and privacy issues were not on its list of interests. In the past, the Bahamas had been more focused on trade and aviation issues with the US.

NSA chief: Being anonymous an anachronism

The concept of total anonymity may be something of an anachronism, the head of the National Security Agency suggested. Adm Michael Rogers said anonymity is being sacrificed for technology, and his agency is caught in the tensions surrouding that shift.

“In the world we’re living in, increasingly by choice and by chance, we are forfeiting privacy at levels that as individuals I don't think we truly understand,” Adm Rogers said. “I’m the first to admit, the idea that you can be totally anonymous in the digital age is increasingly difficult to executive.”

The ability to completely disappear from the crowd may be a thing of the past, he said, given the ability of companies and governments to obtain vast amounts of information about people.

Adm Rogers's comments follow a series of reports detailing the insights companies and government agencies are gaining by watching people’s habits on the Internet and offline.

Democrats protest intelligence funding bill over NSA

The intelligence funding bill the House overwhelmingly passed would make no major reforms to some of the most controversial spying programs, which angered some Democrats.

Rep John Conyers Jr (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, voted against the measure because it made no effort to reform the National Security Agency and other programs. The funding bill “excludes even modest efforts to address cybersecurity, whistleblower protections, increased transparency, and drone warfare,” he said. “Because the bill falls far short on each of these matters -- and because the members introducing these reforms were not provided even the courtesy of open debate -- I did not support this bill.”

“While I recognize the necessity of guarding some of the intelligence community’s clandestine activities, matters that impact the civil liberties and safety of all Americans cannot be conducted in a manner that shuts out Congress and leaves the public in the dark," he added.

Lawmakers to unveil bill for pre-1972 recordings

Reps George Holding (R-NC) and John Conyers (D-MI) are set to introduce a bill that would require Internet radio services like Pandora and Sirius XM to pay to play songs that were recorded before 1972.

The bill from Reps Holding and Conyers -- the Respecting Senior Performers as Essential Cultural Treasures, or RESPECT, Act -- would require Internet radio services to pay federal performance royalty fees for the older recordings.

The call for performance royalty fees for pre-1972 recordings is supported by industry groups and musicians, some of whom -- including Martha Reeves, Dickey Betts and Al Jardine -- are set to appear at the bill’s unveiling.